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> The entire history of the city has its beginning in Cain's act. All the builders were sons of Cain and act with his purpose.
For whoever makes a shelter of reeds and hides has joined his spirit to the common destiny of creatures and he will subside back into the primal mud with scarcely a cry. But who builds in stone seeks to alter the structure of the universe and so it was with these masons however primitive their works may seem to us.
The city has two faces, construction and conquest; yet we see here that the two may thus be reconciled. They that build in stone seek impose themselves upon the world. This amounts to nothing less than a declaration of intent, if not yet of outright war. The terms are laid down and thus the city is established. These the lines which it will defend. A city stands as much by its walls as arms within and that which it extends. This the force by which it asserts its existence against all that would whittle away or destroy. Stone decays alike with reeds and hides, but the point above is that this difference of quantity amounts to a distinction in quality; it is that the mason makes a further claim.
Ellul speaks of Exodus, in which we find the carved stone improper as an altar.1 This line he extends, that man yokes the realm and renders it incapable of simple testament. We find the free birds sing their constant dhikr—what means the caged bird’s cry? Perhaps this no worship but a simple of scream of one alienated from their God. We hear what we want as we see what we want when the plane comes low upon our city. See the street lights stretch beautiful across the landscape. This mockery of His sun clouds the simple night. Of course, all this is of Him also—what are we to make of that? This light Ellul seeks in scripture.
See the city lights maintain itself even against the night. We stand against the world and assert ourselves: “let there be light.” The river yoked turns a mill, sends fire marching down the wires. A spark thus captured leaps at last, falls upon our eyes. We walk and think little of the lines leading outward, back, away. We walk and think if at all this the way of our world. The city is a ceaseless war; it has to be. See the linesmen fighting accident and decay. See all those that work to improve the wires in their war against time and chance. The whole follows the same shape as that which once developed and deployed poison gas. Here we release our advances not against men but nature.
Of course, nature suffered from the gas as men alike from these lights. The watchman working in a warehouse suffers steady headaches. White lights burn his eyes until morning releases him unto the soft light of dawn. The headache remains even then, here the hangover of our dealing with demons. A hundred-thousand small costs go thus unnoticed. Nobody sits to say: “enough, not another more!” We spread the whole upon all men and let the shadows lie. No single lamp, however immense, could light this beast distributed. The watchman wakes to an alarm; night again. The war continues quietly even in his home.
We are ourselves a war—what difference is this? The way of man is to exploit and defy. The rabbit violated by my knife provides another day. See the secret shame of excrement. Thought finds little to justify this. Many despise existence in varying ways to cover for this. They have no answer and so conclude against. Those that continue without reason seem naïve. The simple child dances without a care. The enlightened ruminate upon nonsense.
See The Meaning of the City: “Cain takes possession of the world and uses it as he wishes … Cain creates the art of craftsmanship. He carves stones and thereby makes them impure, unfit for use in an altar for God (Ex. 20:25). It is man’s high-handed piracy of creation that makes creation incapable of giving glory to God. Cain bends all of creation to his will. He knows full well that by God’s order he has received dominion over creation, and he assumes control. He forces creation to follow his destiny, his destiny of slavery and sin, and his revolt to escape from it. From this taking possession, from this revolution, the city is born.”